Over the course of four decades, the actor inspired and enchanted audiences of all ages

By Nate Jones
Updated August 11, 2020 01:48 PM
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Robin Williams, who died by suicide six years ago at the age of 63, came to fame as a stand-up comedian and sitcom star, but over the course of his long career, Williams proved himself a limitless talent, equally at home in family films, adult dramas and everything in between.

As the world continues mourn Williams, let’s look back at the roles that made the actor so beloved.

Mork, Mork & Mindy

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Playing an alien sent from the planet Ork to study humans, Williams brought his comedic sensibilities to a national audience for the first time. The catchphrases (“Nanu nanu”) may seem odd to contemporary viewers, but Williams’s mile-a-minute comic deadpan is instantly recognizable.

Garp, The World According to Garp

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Williams’s ambition was evident in his first major film role. Rather than repeat his Mork persona, he took the lead in the screen adaptation of John Irving’s classic novel, a contemplative author wrestling (sometimes literally) with notions of family and sexuality.

Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning Vietnam

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Williams received his first Academy Award nomination for playing Cronauer, an irreverent radio broadcaster who entertained troops during the Vietnam War. The film’s broadcast scenes proved that his manic improvisations could work in a “serious” picture.

John Keating, Dead Poets Society

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The warmth and force of Williams’s comic energy separated this period piece from the rest of the “inspirational teacher” genre, as his poetry-loving lecturer inspired a generation of students to stand up for their beliefs (and stand on their desks).

Peter Pan, Hook

Even as he approached middle age, Williams delighted in letting out his inner teenage boy, making him the perfect choice to play the adult version of the boy who refused to grow up.

Genie, Aladdin

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For a generation of ’90s kids, this is the definitive Williams performance. Thanks to the power of animation, for the first time, the actor’s physical form could keep up with his voice.

Daniel Hilliard, Mrs. Doubtfire

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The physical transformation required for Mrs. Doubtfire was no less impressive. Even under a foam suit, a wig and a prosthetic mask, Williams’s personality could not be contained.

Armand Goldman, The Birdcage

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Williams’s love of camp made him stand out among his comedic peers, and playing the straight man (so to speak) to Nathan Lane gave him the opportunity to indulge his wilder instincts while also offering up a grounded performance.

Sean Maguire, Good Will Hunting

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After two nominations, Williams won his sole Oscar for playing a quiet therapist who helps Matt Damon overcome his insecurities. As the dispenser of wisdom both obvious (“It’s not your fault”) and uncomfortable (“I can’t learn anything from you I couldn’t read in some book”), Williams proved the perfect mentor for Damon’s troubled genius.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.